Friday, October 31, 2008

Educating Chancellor Gearhart

The new UA Chancellor, G. David Gearhart, got a lesson in the politics of the budget this week, appearing before the Legislative Joint Budget Committee to present the University's request for additional state funding. He requested an increase in state general revenues from $114.1 million this year to $129.8 million in the second year of the next budget cycle. The legislators had a couple of things they wanted to discuss.

Why, they wanted to know, should the taxpayers give the University $500,000 a year for operation of a botanical garden in Hot Springs? Good question. Why does the UA need a garden in Hot Springs at all.. The legislators told Gearhart to give some thought to raising admission prices instead of seeking state funds that could be better spent on home health care for the elderly. After all, they said, you keep raising tuition for students every year.

Next up, they asked, why in the hell is the UA charging $50 for a parking ticket? Another good question that deserves an answer. The UA collects about $2 million a year in fines. One legislator said he'd never heard of a parking ticket anywhere in the world costing more than S10. Vice Chancellor Don Pederson said they needed to make them really high, because "students ignore the rules when the costs don’t impact them."

Gearhart did get a break, because it was such an easy act to follow John White, who seemed to have less respect for the legislators than they did for him. Gearhart even apologized for not knowing something, a response John White would not have considered. Senator Steve Faris said he appreciated the change in attitude from the pomposity of the past. "It’s refreshing to have a chancellor at the university now who enjoys returning calls.” Indeed.

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